Preparing for the Self Assessment season can be daunting, but with the right strategies and digital tools, you can make the process significantly smoother. In a recent webinar, FreeAgent’s Tony Stevenson FCA chatted with Russell Frayne FCCA (Azets), Katie Hawking (Dext), and Phil Hobden (Know-IT) to get their thoughts on how to navigate this process. Here are the key insights the panellists shared.
Encourage clients to share their information more frequently
Despite the plethora of technology available to accountants and bookkeepers, many firms still experience the dreaded January rush. Katie put forth her theory as to why this happens: “We still see huge amounts of data collection happening on an annual basis, which is why we experience such large peaks in January. Many firms feel like their clients don’t want to change the habits of how they bring their records in.”
However, as many practices know, you can make substantial time-saving gains by encouraging clients to share their data more frequently. Conversations around moving to quarterly or monthly file sharing can make a huge difference. And asking clients to connect their business bank account to accounting software, like FreeAgent, is even better. Once connected, a client’s transactions will automatically flow into FreeAgent each day, vastly reducing the amount of back-and-forth accountants and bookkeepers need to have with their clients.
Katie highlighted: “Over 3,200 people submitted their tax return on Christmas Day last year, which just shows how busy business owners are - the only day they get to spend on their tax records is the one day of holiday they potentially get every year.”
Not only can technology help accountants avoid the pressures of the January deadline, but it can free up valuable time for small business owners and give them a clearer view of their tax liabilities. Communicating this clearly is a surefire way to encourage clients to share their data more consistently.
Make it easy for clients to provide you with good-quality information
In order to increase the frequency of data sharing, the panellists agreed that removing barriers was key. Russell highlighted: “Data capture tools are great. But also consider something like Document Exchange or a client portal to get your clients in the habit of sharing important information with you directly.”
Similarly, ensuring your clients are providing you with good-quality data will make the Self Assessment season much smoother. Again, accounting software such as FreeAgent ensures greater accuracy of client data and our AI-powered features reduce the amount of time it takes to explain bank transactions and categorise expenses.
For practices, a solution like Dext Prepare, or FreeAgent’s Smart Capture tool, gives accountants and bookkeepers the ability to extract information from receipts and automatically pull the data into accounting software. In this way, the use of technology can vastly reduce errors and prevent unnecessary back and forth with clients.
Review and optimise your internal processes
The panellists also agreed that regular reviews of workflows and internal processes can help you make the most out of the tools you use in practice. Lean on your account managers to help you understand how to make the most of your software and how to set your clients up for success. There might be hidden features that you can leverage to make Self Assessment more efficient.
Reviewing processes shouldn’t stop at Self Assessment. Phil highlighted: “If you’re only looking at optimising processes for January, other challenges and problems will come in that you haven’t considered.” Looking at where you can improve your processes as a whole will have knock-on positive effects during the busy season.
Russell said: “Often I see that people are looking at processes in a siloed way whereas it needs to be holistic. Eventually, those incremental improvements that you make period by period and year by year will lead to huge efficiency gains in the long term.”
However, Katie highlighted the importance of communication when refining processes: “When employees feel like change is happening around them but not with them, they can become nervous and resistant to that change.” By keeping teams up to date, you’re more likely to get buy-in into the change you want to achieve.
Embed good behaviours by investing in your education and onboarding
Finally, when it comes to Self Assessment, the panellists discussed the importance of making sure your clients understand the benefits of working with your practice in the way that you want.
While legislation can go some way in encouraging this, it needs to be balanced with clear communication from accountants and bookkeepers. Phil said: “You can give clients all the tools on a plate, but if they don’t see the true value for their business - and not just the value to the government or the accountant - the needle won’t move.”
By identifying what drives each individual client to change their behaviours, whether that be freeing up time on the weekends or not filing returns on Christmas Day, you’re much more likely to embed a better way of working together over the long term. Russell said: “If you can enable, educate and empower your clients to do their bookkeeping well through training, support and demonstrating value, that is where the wins are from a client perspective.”
Again, you can lean on your software providers for onboarding support. FreeAgent ensures clients are set up for success from the offset by providing hands-on onboarding guidance, training and resources to help them build confidence early on.
Watch the full discussion or explore previous sessions on our webinars and videos page.